Paying tribute to the sacrifice of local men

Pictured with a newly unveiled Somme memorial bench near the War Memorial are ABC councillors from left, Robert Smith, Darryn Causby, Julie Flaherty and David Jones. INPT27-229.
Pictured with a newly unveiled Somme memorial bench near the War Memorial are ABC councillors from left, Robert Smith, Darryn Causby, Julie Flaherty and David Jones. INPT27-229.

There was a special service in St Mark’s on Friday night to round off a moving day to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

The event was organised by Portadown District No 1 and conducted by Rev John Pickering, retired rector of Drumcree.

He paid tribute to the men from the Portadown area and the whole county who died and served at the Battle of the Somme in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, as well as all who had served in World War 1.

He brought to remembrance the 71 men from the Portadown area who were killed on the first day of the battle, naming two members of Clounagh LOL No 9, James Gordon and Ephrian Sherman, who died on July 1.

He also reminded the brethren that Geoffrey Shillington-Cather, whose mother came from Portadown was killed on July 1 and was awarded the VC. He was a nephew of the District Master of Portadown LOL No 1, David Graham Shillington, who also served.

Rev Pickering spoke of suffering and sacrifice which was inspired by Christ. He called upon the brethren to sacrifice themselves to the ideals fought for in war and to Christ as Saviour and Lord.

The service included a solemn Act of Remembrance and two minutes’ silence as well as favoured hymns of the Somme period – O God Our Help, Onward Christian Soldiers and Soldiers of Christ as well as the anthem Let Us Now Praise famous Man.

There was a moving post script to the Lieutenant Shillington Cather VC event when Colonel Reid attended the Sunday afternoon service at St Anne’s Cathedral – the lieutenant was one of four VCs from the Somme, the others being Pte William McFadzean, Capt Eric Bell and Pte Robert Quigg, the sole survivor of the four.

The final act of the weekend in Portadown was a service in St Mark’s on Sunday night, conducted by Rev Charles McCartney, padre to the Royal British Legion in Portadown, Rev Dr Michael Kennedy and Rev Canon Jim Campbell, former rector of Portadown Parish.

There were three reflections of war – ‘Preparation for Battle’ by Colonel Hubert McAllister DL; ‘The Battle’ by Richard Doherty, military historian; and ‘The Aftermath’ by Captain Doug Beattie MC MLA.

The devastation of The Somme is best summed up by a letter home from The Front by Lt-Col Stewart Blacker, CO of the 9th Battalion RIF when he reflected that of the Battalion of around 700, just 81 were left standing.

The remainder were killed, missing, wounded or taken prisoner.

Of the First Day slaughter, Lt-Col Blacker, who specifically mentioned Lieutenant Shillington-Cather, wrote home to his wife : ‘Safe but unhurt. The Battalion is no more. So gallant and so splendid they all were.”